In a novel event in late March, members of several Native American tribes in Southern California joined with Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez at the Kuruvunga Springs Cultural Center in West LA to mark the signing of 17 historic protocols to guide relations between the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and tribes in the area.
Members of the Chumash, Tataviam, Tongva and Acjachemen Nations were present on March 28 to witness the signing of the document, an agreement to ensure that Native American tribal members are welcomed and respected on church grounds.
“We recognize that our shared history has often been a long trail of tears — marked by broken promises, bitter misunderstandings and painful injustices,” Archbishop Gomez said before the signing.
The protocols cover items ceremonial requests such as conducting Native ceremonies during Mass, granting access to visit burial grounds and encouraging Native American participation in the planning of liturgies. Indigenous-themed cultural and educational functions hosted by the archdiocese are included in the document.
“This is a huge step in the right direction,” said Acjachemen Tribal Chair Teresa Romero.
The resolve to address the relationship between the tribes and the Archdiocese began a decade ago when tribal members were complaining of treatment and lack of access to the burial grounds of their relatives and having to pay museum fees.
Then-archbishop Cardinal Roger Mahony tasked Auxiliary Bishops Edward Clark and Gabino Zavala with addressing the concerns of Native American leaders who’d had negative experiences with pastors.
Bishop Clark, who was on hand for the signing, has also been instrumental in the revision of other Native historical elements within the Church in California.
In 2015, the California Conference of Catholic Bishops made a commitment to survey the historical museums at each mission to ensure they were sensitive to the experience of Natives at missions. In addition, the bishops agreed to reassess the fourth-grade curriculum at Catholic schools in California to ensure it was sensitive to the experience of Native Americans. The bishops worked with representatives from Native tribes throughout California and a new curriculum is in the process of being implemented for the upcoming school year.
Fernandeño Tataviam tribal president Rudy Ortega touted some of the new protocols as a sign that “doors are opening for us.”